Voters will head to the polls tomorrow to elect a state Member of Parliament for the seat of Wagga for the second time in just six months and the poll this time around is shaping up to be just as intriguing as the September by-election, when Independent Dr Joe McGirr wrested the seat from Liberal control for the first time in 60 years.
Dr McGirr was swept into the seat last September on a wave of anti-Liberal sentiment in the wake of disgraced MP Daryl Maguire’s resignation and a shambolic government campaign.
While’s he’s now the incumbent, Dr McGirr doesn’t have many of the benefits of incumbency, having a track record spanning just six months to show to voters.
There’s no Liberal Party candidate this time around – the disastrous by-election result was such a blow to the party that they’ve now abandoned the seat – allowing the Nationals to represent the Coalition.
The Nats have put forward Mackenna Powell, regarded as a far more electable candidate than Julia Ham, who failed to resonate with voters at the by-election when standing for the Liberals.
Once more joining Dr McGirr on the ballot are Labor’s Dan Hayes, evergreen campaigner Ray Goodlass (The Greens) and Seb McDonagh (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party).
There’s two new independents: aggrieved former Wagga Liberal Party president Colin Taggart and newcomer Matt Quade.
Preferences decided the by-election and may well decide the general election vote tomorrow.
Political pundits suggest Ms Powell would need somewhere approaching a 40 per cent primary vote to stave off the challenge of either Dr McGirr or Mr Hayes after preferences.
At the by-election, the Liberals could manage only 25.6 per cent, enough to narrowly top the poll, but not nearly enough once preferences flowed to Dr McGirr, who finished up with over 59 per cent of the vote on a two-party preferred basis.
Should Ms Powell not reach 40% this time, but top the poll, then it’s likely that whoever finishes second on the primary count – Dr McGirr or Mr Hayes – would overtake the Nationals on preferences.
But it’s not clearcut. Dr McGirr was assisted at the by-election by preferences from independent Paul Funnell, who is not standing this time.
Dr McGirr has welcomed the seat turning into marginal territory, with Wagga previously held by the Coalition by the safest of margins for years.
“The interest shown by the Nationals has brought a level of energy and focus to the voting process that the electorate hasn’t seen before,” Dr McGirr said.
With the Liberals and Labor polling at around 50-50 across the state, there are predictions of a minority government, where either Liberal or Labor will need to rely on the cross-bench members, including, possibly, Dr McGirr, to form government.
Dr McGirr said it was difficult to think about those permutations ahead of Saturday.
“I have an election to win first,” Dr McGirr said. “And I actually think its impossible to predict the outcome.
“While I agree the parties are very close in the polls, there’s a lot of variation seat by seat.”
Dr McGirr said that should he win, he would put the interests of the electorate first, while noting that stable government was important.
He would reserve the right to vote on each piece of legislation as he saw fit, should he agree to guarantee supply to either Labor or Liberal.
With the prospect of minority government – either Liberal or Labor – council demerger proponents are optimistic about the prospect of breaking up the Snowy Valleys Council and re-establishing the old Tumbarumba and Tumut councils.
Labor and the minor parties all support demergers.
Dr McGirr would not stand in the way of such a proposal.
“I’ve made it clear that I was not a supporter of the mergers,” Dr McGirr said.
“That remains the case.”